London may be an expensive city to live in, but there are plenty of places to visit for free. If you're travelling with kids, however, all those headline historical sites and culture-packed art galleries aren't likely to hold their attention for long. Fortunately, London has some spots that are perfect for little people. Here’s a guide to the best free things to do in London that kids will love.

A climbing frame shaped like a pirate ship sits in a massive sandpit in Princess Diana Memorial Playground
The epic pirate ship climbing frame in Diana Memorial Playground, Kensington Gardens © The Royal Parks

Pop along to a proper playground

London is home to lots of incredible open spaces, and many of them have some sort of playground, but there are a couple of stand-out superstars that offer kids an exceptional experience and are totally free to enter. Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens is a spectacular playzone. It has a giant pirate ship to climb on, water features, tunnels and teepees to hide in, wooden musical instruments to play, and sand to get mucky in. Coram’s Fields near Bloomsbury has been offering a free playspace for children since 1936. Here you'll find an adventure playground, sandpits, sports courts and a small city farm. The kid-centric thing is taken so far at these two playgrounds that unaccompanied teens and adults should expect to be turned away at the gates.

A very large group of deer can be seen resting or feeding on the grass of Richmond Park
A herd of fallow deer in Richmond Park © The Royal Parks

See the wildlife in the parks and gardens

St James’s Park is a beautiful space with a picturesque lake full of ducks, geese and even pelicans. Young travellers with a love for horses, meanwhile, have a great chance of spotting regal-looking ponies and their riders trotting around Hyde Park. In a fenced-off part of Greenwich Park known as The Wilderness, you may be lucky to spot some deer, while over at Richmond Park these horned critters roam freely around the 2500-acre green space. Remember: these are wild animals and you should keep your distance from them. 

An astronaut stands near a module on the moon in an exhibit on space travel
One of the displays on space in the Science Museum © Marco Prati / Shutterstock

Explore museums that kids will love

London is incredibly fortunate to welcome visitors to its museums and galleries free of charge. Almost every venue hosts special events for children, but there are a couple of stand-out places that truly put the emphasis on educating and entertaining kids. The Science Museum has many free exhibitions that will capture imaginations. In the Exploring Space exhibit, you can get up close to the Soyuz, the space module that brought astronauts back from the Space Station in 2016, and in the Flight gallery, you can track the intriguing history of aviation. For very little kids, head to The Garden (recommended for ages 3 to 6) in the basement, which has water play, cranes, blocks and many hands-on sensory displays.

A large T-Rex stands in an empty gallery with light effects creating a sense of being in a prehistoric world
The animatronic tyrannosaurus rex at the Natural History Museum is sure to provoke a reaction! © Kotsovolos Panagiotis / Shutterstock

The Natural History Museum is an old favourite for its massive collection of skeletons and specimens, but dino-loving little ones will want to head straight to the very impressive Dinosaur Gallery. Walk through informative displays on different species explaining when they lived and what it was that might have killed them off, on your way to meet the animatronic tyrannosaurus rex (be warned: this can be terrifying for young children). 

Many other London museums make a special effort to engage kids. The British Museum has a child-friendly object trail of 12 historical objects that are likely to appeal to a little one's curious nature, along with free art materials and a gallery backpack (£10 deposit required) full of themed tasks and challenges. The Museum of Docklands has Mudlarks Gallery, and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has Ahoy! These interactive spaces are really popular with toddlers and children up to around the age of 8, giving them a chance to role play, grab, pull, lift, push, and engage with exhibits on themes covered by each museum. The galleries are free to visit, but you’ll need to book a timed slot online to ensure entry. 

Guards in red jackets an bearskin hats march in front of Buckingham Palace
Guards march during the Changing of the Guard ceremony outside Buckingham Palace © David Steele / Shutterstock

Be entertained by ceremonies, parades and festivals

Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of the queen, and you’ll be able to tell if she’s home because the flagpole will be flying the square yellow, red and blue Royal Standard. The changing of the guard ceremony takes place almost every day at 11am (10am on Sundays). It’s free, and tends to be massively popular with tourists, so get there at least 45 mins early to grab a good viewpoint. You’ll hear a full military band, and should see the Old Guard, New Guard and Household Cavalry parade by.

The New Year’s Day Parade on 1 January each year is made up of an eclectic mix of community floats, vehicles, performances and marching bands that walk/drive/cheerlead their way from Piccadilly to Parliament Square. It’s family friendly, a bit silly, and quite a lot of fun – it could be the perfect quirky start to your year.

A child is dressed in a bright pink bird costume, with elaborate wings and a headdress including eyes and a blue beak
One of the many fantastic costumes to be seen on Family Day at the Notting Hill Carnival © Ivan Yang / Shutterstock

The annual Notting Hill Carnival aims to celebrate cultural diversity and Caribbean heritage in one of the world’s largest street carnivals. It falls on the Sunday and bank holiday Monday at the end of August each year, and Sunday is designated as Family Day. Local children parade with dances, performances, and impressive costumes. Crowds are usually reduced on Family Day, but you should still expect it to be exceedingly busy. 

Free photo ops for Harry Potter fans

If your family is made up of wannabe wizards and witches with a penchant for Harry Potter, then you’ll be wanting to stop by platform 9¾ at King’s Cross station. Fans of the books and movies find themselves joining long queues here for that perfect shot. From there, stroll to the nearby St Pancras International Station, which features as King’s Cross in the films of The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets.

Get up close with the creatures at the city farms

With the exception of Coram’s Fields, city farms are found outside the centre of London. These are charitable organisations, offering kids a chance to gain farm skills and interact with animals.  Some have horse-riding facilities, and many include an opportunity to stroke the animals. To the southwest, there’s Deen City Farm in Colliers Wood, and Vauxhall City Farm very near Vauxhall station. In southeast London, there’s Crystal Palace Park Farm and Mudchute. Hackney City Farm is to the northeast; Kentish Town to the north of the city and Spitalfields City Farm in the east.

Subscribe to our Lonely Planet Kids newsletter and get 30% off your first Lonely Planet Kids book purchase. 

Explore related stories

Features - Swanning-around-on-the-quay-33dbaaaf5c12

Budget Travel

An infant success? Touring cities with children in charge

Apr 23, 2018 • 8 min read